Problems: Lawmakers must stop avoiding our problems

It is difficult to fathom, but during the same era in which one federal agency was aggressively targeting the citizens of Appalachia who depend on the coal industry both for employment and for affordable electricity, another federal agency was turning a blind eye — ignoring its own rules and regulations — to allow pharmaceutical companies to also target the citizens of Appalachia in a campaign that eventually saw an average of 10,000 opioid pills per DAY being poured into one pharmacy in a tiny southern West Virginia town of 400.

During a ten-month span, McKesson Corp. dumped 3 million into the Sav-Rite Pharmacy in Kermit. They knew what they were doing. An employee at their Ohio warehouse had flagged the suspect orders to them back in 2007. And the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration knew they were doing it.

According to a report released by the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee last week, McKesson, Cardinal Health and AmerisourceBergen, and their regional distributors, were largely responsible for the flood of poisons into the Mountain State and other vulnerable regions (which has since morphed to include the monsters of heroin, fentanyl and a resurgence of methamphetamines). And at best, the DEA was not proactive in reviewing usage data to combat the diversion of drugs for illicit purposes. The report suggests there are troubling questions about the DEA’s enforcement of the Controlled Substances Act.

Now, West Virginia has the highest death rate from prescription drug overdoses in the country.

In fact, publications all over are citing the Mountain State as the poster child for explanation of the declining national average life expectancy. Referring to West Virginia as “the canary in the coal mine,” Dr. Michael Brumage, a West Virginia University public health expert who formerly ran the health department in Charleston, pointed out life expectancy started falling here well before it did anywhere else.

Certainly obesity, diabetes, heart disease and cancer are among the culprits, but another major factor is “deaths of despair.”

The drug overdose death rate for the nation as a whole is today what West Virginia’s rate was 10 years ago. The nation’s suicide rate is where West Virginia’s was nearly 20 years ago. And those numbers have, tragically, only continued to climb in the Mountain State.

Hopelessness borne of crippling poverty and an unemployment rate that remains defiant of the economic giddiness the rest of the nation says they are experiencing combine with the darkness of the cycle of addiction.

“I really and truly don’t see things getting better,” 67-year-old Maggie Hill, of Madison, W.Va., told the Associated Press.

Though the evidence has been in front of them for years, Congress now has in writing a report that helps them understand why. Surely they can see how West Virginians got the feeling the folks in the swamp are more than simply not on their side, but truly working against them.

Lawmakers have the information they need, on this issue and more. It is time for them to do something about it.

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